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Staff Pick - Best Erection 

Staff Pick

Among the numerous new buildings going up on the University of Montana campus, the Payne Family Native American Center certainly stands out. Built expressly to further Native American studies and serve as a launching pad for American Indian students, it’s as much an architectural marvel as it is a place of higher learning.

Crow design architect Daniel Glenn incorporated symbolism, holism and tradition while drawing up blueprints for the 30,000-square-foot facility. Constructed on the site of what was once a Salish Indian encampment—now the UM oval—the center’s main entrance faces east, as American Indian custom dictates. That entrance leads into the building’s centerpiece, a 12-sided circular atrium inspired by a tepee design. Each side of the atrium represents one of Montana’s 12 tribes. Once inside the atrium, wood planks harvested in part from larch trees that grew on campus form a medallion pattern reflecting an angular Blackfeet design. Above, a thin skylight—the modern incarnation of a teepee smoke vent—further illuminates the densely grained floor beneath. This is the center’s gathering place.

In addition to its attention to history and tradition, the $8.6 million project was designed with the environment in mind. Groundwater cools the building. Outside, drought tolerant plants eliminate the need for a permanent irrigation system. Features like this earned the Payne Center certification from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. It’s the first campus building to do so.

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